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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Rev. James Simms and David Caliguiri were named Thursday to head “Pittsburgh First,” a coalition of businesses and community leaders advocating a $1 billion-plus development project in the Lower Hill District and Uptown areas of the city.

The “Pittsburgh First” coalition includes Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc., the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nationwide Realty Investors and local groups ranging from the Greater Pittsburgh Council of Carpenters to Ebony Development, the Master Builders Association and the Builders Guild.

Isle of Capri has applied for the Pittsburgh slots license and, if successful, has pledged $290 million to fully fund construction of a new multi-purpose arena that will be home to the Penguins and more than 100 other events each year. The new arena and casino will be the catalysts for the $1 billion-plus project that will include exciting development opportunities on the 28 acres currently occupied by Mellon Arena and its surrounding parking lots.

The Rev. Simms, 62, former president of Allegheny County Council, is pastor of the St. Paul Baptist Church in Pittsburgh. He is the former director of the City of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations and the Public Housing Authority, and former executive assistant for Pittsburgh Mayors Richard Caliguiri and Sophie Masloff. He resides in the Hill District.

Caliguiri, 33, is the son of the late Mayor Richard Caliguiri and previously worked as a consultant in the government affairs practice of the law firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott. He currently serves as a board member of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP), Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the downtown YMCA. He resides in Squirrel Hill, Pa., with his wife Katy and his two children.

Rev. Simms will be the Chairman of the Board of Advisors of “Pittsburgh First,” and Caliguiri will serve as Senior Advisor.

“This group is called ‘Pittsburgh First’ because we want to make sure that the financial benefits from this soon-to-be awarded slots license will put the interests of our community first,” Rev. Simms said. “Isle of Capri has made a pledge of $290 million to fund construction of the new arena and spark a tremendous development plan in an area of the city that has been neglected for far too long – a plan unmatched in ‘community giveback’ by either of the other applicants.

“It gives us the chance to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh; provide the citizens of western Pennsylvania with a 21st century multi-purpose facility that can be an entertainment magnet for the entire region; and redevelop those 28 acres where the current Mellon Arena stands, providing new housing opportunities, retail and mixed-use development while reconnecting the Lower Hill with our Downtown.”

It was Rev. Simms, who, when the plan was first unveiled, said, “Forty years ago, we tore down a neighborhood and built an arena. Now, we have an opportunity to tear down an arena and build a neighborhood.”

Caliguiri expressed excitement that, in addition to nationally-known Nationwide Realty Investors, the group also includes representatives of the Greater Pittsburgh Council of Carpenters, the Master Builders Association and the Builders Guild – underscoring the number of jobs that can come to the region. He believes that this can be the city’s “third renaissance.”

“This is a phenomenal opportunity that literally can change the landscape of our city for years to come – for decades to come,” Caliguiri said. “We have got to take full advantage of what County Executive Dan Onorato has called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to use gaming revenue to rebuild, revitalize and re-shape this very important section of our Downtown, while providing multiple benefits for the citizens of the city, the county and our entire region.

“To have the opportunity to build a new arena at no cost to the taxpayers, and spawn all of this other development, is, as some of our elected leaders have said, an ‘economic no-brainer.’”

Twenty three elected leaders already have stepped forward to support the Isle of Capri plan and “Pittsburgh First,” including city council members, county council members, state senators and state representatives from both sides of the aisle.


It was previously announced that if Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc. is successful in winning the Pittsburgh slots license, the company will donate $1 million per year to the Pittsburgh First Foundation for community development in the Hill District.

In addition, Pittsburgh First announced Thursday that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Isle of Capri will donate their share of any redevelopment profits to the nonprofit Pittsburgh First Foundation, for use in continued community development in the Hill District.

“Under normal circumstances, both the Penguins and Isle of Capri, as partners in the development of the 28 acres where the Mellon Arena currently stands, would stand to earn profits from that development,” said Rev. James Simms of Pittsburgh First. “However, both the Penguins and Isle of Capri have pledged that they will agree to forego those profits and pledge them directly to our nonprofit foundation for community development in the Hill District.

“This is another example of how this project will provide a direct benefit to the community, and put Pittsburgh first.”

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